Travel: Rediscover the ancient art of Rock Dhokra in Panchgani

Jun 16, 2016, 08:30 IST | Krutika Behrawala

This weekend, head to Panchgani for a hands-on workshop to learn a local art form that offers livelihood to Naxalite-affected tribal artists

Think of Panchgani and you immediately start plotting an itinerary of hiking trails in the lofty Sahyadris, watching the sun set over the powder-blue Krishna River and visiting the luscious strawberry farms. However, did you know that the popular hill station, about four hours away from Mumbai, is also home to a lesser-known art form known as Rock Dhokra? Originating in 2,500 BC in Mohenjodaro, and largely prevalent in Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Orissa as tribal art, Dhokra uses a lost-wax casting technique (casting a duplicate metal structure from an original) to create animal and human figurines. If you are keen to discover the ancient art form or wish to make a Rock Dhokra sculpture yourself, sign up with The Travel Of Art for a two-day trip this weekend.

An artist in Devrai Art Village

“I believe art is a great way to learn about a place because every art form is influenced by the local culture and habits. The guests will take one-on-one workshops with the local Rock Dhokra artists and make souvenirs of their choice. On our last trip in January, a traveller made the Mohenjodaro Dancing Girl (the famous bronze statuette considered to be the origin of Dhokra art), while another made a baby dino,” says 34-year-old Meghana Biwalkar, a city-based former journalist and founder of the travel company, launched last September. She has also planned a trip in August to Pollachi near Coimbatore, to explore rangoli crafts native to the area.

A kiln used for Rock Dhokra sculpture

Devrai and its Dhokra
The workshop will be conducted in a studio at Devrai Art Village, a non-profit in Panchgani, launched in 2008 by Mandakini Mathur and Suresh Pungati — a celebrated adivasi artist from the Madhia tribe, hailing from the Naxalite-affected Gadchiroli region in Maharashtra. With an aim to empower tribal artists, the NGO currently offers a livelihood to 10 master craftsmen along with 17 tribal apprentices from Naxalite-affected areas of Gadchiroli and Chhattisgarh. In fact, the NGO has given the art form a new twist, currently in patent pending process. “They create a fusion of stone and brass, a technique that’s never been tried before,” informs Biwalkar.

 The home-stay overlooking Krishna Valley
 The home-stay overlooking Krishna Valley

The process begins by creating the shape of the sculpture in bees wax around a rock. It is then fused with molten brass in a high-temperature kiln. “It takes around a week to make a Rock Dhokra sculpture. The waxwork depends on the size and design. Then, the two layers of clay have to dry up before it goes for casting. Once cast in metal, the artefact has to be cleaned, buffed and polished,” informs Mathur, adding, “We will also talk about casting elements like leaves, branches and bark into metal,” she adds.

Meghana Biwalkar
Meghana Biwalkar

Gaga over godadis
The guests will be put up in an home-stay run by Tejinder Walia, a local who also supports community welfare projects and trains local ladies in Godadi weaving. “It’s a traditional form of quilt-making, popular in Maharashra. The women make godadis out of old dupattas and saris. Guests will be able to see how it’s done,” says Biwalkar. They can also relish Maharashtrian fare freshly made in the home-stay’s open kitchen.

A Panchgani local teaches a participant to make Godadi quilts
A Panchgani local teaches a participant to make Godadi quilts

Trip Dates June 18 to 19 (capacity: 8 to 10 guests)
Call: 9820170948
Cost: Rs 5,500 per person (including travel, accommodation, meals, guided workshop and a forest trail)

From Mumbai 240 km 

How to reach (by road): Drive along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and National Highway 4. Turn right onto the Wai-Surur Road that becomes Wai-Panchgani Road. Turn left onto the Ruighar-Mahu Dam Road in Ganeshpeth, Panchgani.

>> Keep the site clean
>> Don’t venture out alone after sunset
>> Check safety precautions thoroughly during the workshop
>> Carry monsoon gear

Inside Devrai Art Village

The space offers seven to 10-day workshops along with residency programmes where artists, craftsmen and designers can collaborate with local craftsmen and experiment with diverse art forms.

Along with Rock Dhokra, one can also learn bamboo craft, stone sculpting, beaten ironwork, pottery, painting, wood-carving, weaving, jewellery making as wearable art and Warli painting.

Devrai, Panchgani Co-operative Housing Society, behind Sanjeewan School Playground, Panchgani.

CALL: 9923339726

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